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In February of this year, the University of Sheffield hosted its second BERA ECR Network symposium. Targeted at early-career researchers (ECRs), master’s and doctoral students, the symposium aimed to provide a constructive space for sharing and discussing ideas, and networking with peers. The theme for this year’s symposium series was ‘Framing research: Theories, concepts and reflexivity in educational research’. Professor Rachel Lofthouse from Leeds Beckett University was our invited external discussant for the day, and Dr Liz Chesworth attended as the internal discussant from the School of Education here at Sheffield University. As always, the day proved to be insightful, informative and inspiring as delegates at various stages of their research presented their theoretical and conceptual frameworks.

The event highlighted the possibilities that arise when researchers have opportunities to share and discuss work that draws upon concepts and ideas from diverse disciplines, theoretical frameworks and ideological positions. The doctoral research journey can feel lonely at times and events such as this offer valuable opportunities to connect with fellow researchers. Sharing our research stories and dilemmas can breathe new life into research and can enable us to work through those uncomfortable times when we are feeling stuck in the process. Establishing a supportive and open space for dialogue can be challenging in one-off events, and I was inspired by the group’s commitment to offering sensitive and constructive feedback in response to each of the presentations.

‘The event highlighted the possibilities that arise when researchers have opportunities to share and discuss work that draws upon concepts and ideas from diverse disciplines, theoretical frameworks and ideological positions.’

The presentations covered a wide range of topics and methodologies that reflected the breadth and scope of contemporary educational research. Participants’ experiences prompted us to acknowledge the complex and messy contexts in which research takes place. Many of the presentations highlighted the possibilities afforded by research to problematise and rethink educational practices and policies. As the day progressed it became evident that participants’ diverse interests were united by a common concern for methodologies that foreground respectful, collaborative and ethical research relationships. We engaged in lively, thoughtful and supportive discussions to consider the extent to which reflexivity can be harnessed in order to illuminate and act upon the complex power relations that underpin research in ‘real-world’ contexts. It became evident that reflexivity takes many forms and that its enactment is influenced by the theoretical and conceptual framing of our research.

After the event, delegates were asked to submit a short piece of writing to be collated in this special BERA Blog series.

In her blog Anna Pilson, a PhD student from the University of Durham, focusses on visually impaired children, and she challenges existing methods of research that often undervalue the child’s ‘agency and capacity’. By inverting these narratives, Philson highlights how she aims to create a participatory action research model that positions visually impaired children as ‘knowledge producers and change agents’ through genuine collaboration in the research process.

Jessica Breese, a PhD student from the University of Sheffield, discusses ‘school readiness’ from an interdisciplinary perspective. Focussing on the transition between the end of the early years foundation stage and the national curriculum, Jess explains how she aims to gather ‘first-hand experiences’ of the school-readiness phenomenon in England by engaging with parents, guardians and teachers as co-researchers.

Sarah Moore, an EdD student from the University of Sheffield, writes about her experience at the symposium, where she read out some of the life stories of her research participants. Sarah’s research focusses on the identities, experiences and agency of graduate teaching assistants in the classroom, and the role of relationships in academic leadership using an oral histories approach. In her blog, she reflects on the process of collecting the narratives of these lived experiences, and the potential impact that presenting these stories may have when presented to particular audiences.

Sylvia Ikomi is an MA student from the University of Greenwich who is about to embark on a PhD in September 2020. Her research explores the benefits of oracy-centred teaching strategies for the development of speaking, listening, reading and writing skills of children who have had an adverse childhood experience, with a particular interest in children who have been in care. In her blog, Sylvia describes her experience as a delegate at the symposium and reflects on what she found useful about the day, and how the experience helped her to consider other factors and perspectives that she may not have encountered otherwise.

As the ECR Network’s regional representative for the north of England, I have thoroughly enjoyed planning these events (with great support from the BERA team), and it has been a privilege to have played a part in this symposium series. Although we are in a period of great uncertainty given the current Covid crisis, when these events resume I am certain that this symposium will go on to provide the opportunity for many more students and ECRs to present and discuss their work in an environment that is safe and supportive.

Join BERA’s ECR Network on 18 September 2020 for the online event, ‘Academic writing and publishing: Experiences from an ECR’. In it, Yang Hu – senior lecturer at Lancaster University – will share his experiences of publishing during and after his PhD, consider potential issues when publishing from one’s PhD research, offer ways to navigate (and survive/enjoy) the writing and peer-review process, and give some insights into solo-versus-collaborative research. Click here for more information and to book your place.